Bush’s Vietnam


The United States of America launched a full-fledged attack on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, in a bid to vanquish terror once and for all. They wanted to bomb Afghanistan until the Taliban decides to ‘give up’ Osama bin Laden, who was held responsible for the 9/11 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers.

According to some, this claim was illegitimate and without adequate proof. Osama himself denied any direct involvement in the attack. Most alleged that he was not even the mastermind, but the ‘inspiration’ behind the attacks. Was the mere presence of one terrorist reason enough to bomb a whole nation? Granted, when you’re dealing with someone as deadly as Osama, collateral damage might be acceptable to some extent. But then, barging into a country just because you suspect Mr. Laden is hiding there, that too on faulty intelligence, is that justified?

Something eerily similar happened in Vietnam. With massive civilian casualties, it was a largely unsuccessful and costly “quagmire”.The most unpopular war of the twentieth century. The enemy, then, was not the Islamic terror but the Communists. The Americans left the country more unstable than it was when they came to ‘cleanse’ it.

‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ did destroy the Taliban regime, as it had intended. But Afghanistan itself went from bad to worse. The already crumbling infrastructure, which Afghanistan developed after the Russian invasion, was destroyed. The deplorable state of women, which many Americans cited as a reason to support the war, reportedly became even more pathetic with women reporting more violence due to the chaos of the war.  Afghani casualties apart, America itself suffered huge troop losses.

Bush then decided to establish a government, just as they had tried to do with South Vietnam all those years ago, this time under Hamid Karzai. With accusations of nepotism, electoral fraud and involvement in the drug trade surrounding him, the present government of Afghanistan is as shaky as the previous ones. To Afghans now, as to Vietnamese then, the government is an arbitrary force to be feared, rather than a protector. The Americans had claimed they would bring democracy and progress to the backward country. But with corruption slowly eating away at Afghanistan’s very foundation, America has definitely failed to deliver on that count.

So why have people not protested like they did during the Vietnam War, or even the war on Iraq? The American government has always portrayed the war in Afghanistan as an act of pure self-defence post 9/11. America has always seen the Middle-East as a strategic location with natural resources waiting to be exploited, as displayed quite blatantly in the war against Saddam Hussein and his ‘nuclear weapons’.

It seems as if the all-too-powerful nation believes that it requires next to no justification to invade a country. Was the war only a bid for the hegemonic United States to show its military mettle? Was this ‘war on terror’ a mere façade? The debate still continues.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, there was a tremendous outpouring of sympathy and empathy all over the world for the United States.

If US officials had exercised intelligence and patience, instead of reacting in a knee-jerk military fashion, they could have spared the lives of so many innocent Afghanis in an unjustified war.


Yemen: yet another stalemate


The Arab world received its martyrs of political dissidence in 26 year-old Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi and Algerian Mohsen Bouterfif.  They immolated themselves in protest against the iron-fisted rule of their autocratic governments. With the fire of mutiny reaching the Yemeni shore, the nation is a semblance of a basket case with eight months of violence leaving behind a trail of nearly 500 dead, a malnourished economy and a people clamouring for the ouster of a 33 year-old tyrannical regime.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s stubbornness in not relinquishing power remains quite unscathed, despite grenade attacks on his presidential compound. The return to his turf, after recuperating in Saudi Arabia, is portended to be anything but the rule of ‘the dove of peace and the olive branch’, which he promises with his military background angling him towards the bullet over the ballot.

Labelled as the poorest of the Arab nations, Yemen is troubled by internal frictions and the spilling of protestors onto the streets. It tells of a country saturated with woes of tribal rivalries, a struggling economy, military defections, armed apartheid, Wahhabi encroachment of the Shia faith, depleting resources of oil and water, child malnutrition (the third highest in the world) and corruption filling the coffers of the Saleh clan. Further, the lifeline of foreign aid from the United Nations has been denied with recession-hit economies refusing to loosen their purse strings and the World Bank refusing to fund political instability.

Come conflict and the inherent tendency to knock on the doors of the United States for intervention has yielded no fruit for the Yemeni.  Saleh continues to ride high on the merits of the supposed ‘war against terror’ in his backyard. By cracking the whip against jihadist groups with alleged links to Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Saleh has earned his place in the good books of the US administration.

Efforts by the six-member Gulf Co-operation Committee to lure Saleh to step down in return for amnesty from prosecution for himself and his family have been thwarted thrice. The transient transfer of power to his deputy, Abd al-Rab Mansur Al-Hadi was a mere farce. Saleh sustained his presidency by leveraging his ‘wounded’ constitutional entitlements. With his return, elections and a democratic governance emerge as a mirage.

“God. Country. Revolution. Unity” – Yemen’s motto seems to be followed to the hilt by the rebels, necessarily in the same order save for the elusive last entity. With the political impasse fracturing the home front, it is a test of faith to resurrect democracy before the unrest flares into a annihilating civil war.

Einstein was wrong?


In Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Shia Labeouf’s character, Sam Witwicky, proves Einstein and many other physicists wrong. That he does it in a fit of extreme movie madness is just a Bay-esque touch. Bets are off on whether Einstein stirred in his grave in disgust or not. (He did).

The events over the past few months that came to light at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, must have made Einstein stir in his grave too. More out of discomfort than disgust. Something going faster than light itself? Ludicrous, old Albert and the rest of the world thought till now. Speed of light is relative, he said in his Special Theory of Relativity. It will appear to be the same for everything, no matter what the speed of the observer is. In essence, this means that nothing can ever catch up with light.

And yet, researchers at CERN have apparently managed to do just that. In an experiment carried out in CERN’s 730-kilometre long particle accelerator, a neutrino was found to have breached the light barrier by traversing the distance 60 nanoseconds faster than light itself.

Unsurprisingly, this travesty on the part of the neutrino startled even the researchers themselves. Which is why they poured over their research for months, checking and rechecking every fact. They conducted the same experiment a reported 16,000 times. You don’t want to wrong old man Al without reason, do you? Pillars of physics are at stake, after all.

The physics community is shocked beyond belief. Other research teams at CERN itself have advised caution. They want a full peer review before even delving into what this find entails. The only two labs which can even hope to replicate the same experiment are the Fermilab in the States and another one in Japan. While the Japanese lab is out of commission due to the earthquake and the tsunami, Fermilab needs to have a massive and time-intensive equipment upgrade before it can capture the experiment with the same level of accuracy.

Then again, one needs to question whether this reported finding is as significant as the hoopla surrounding it. No doubt that if and when it is verified by other researchers, this has the potential to redefine physics as we know it. Not the Universe, but our understanding of it. The whole physics community would have to work overtime to redefine all the laws of physics. But then perhaps they would be a step closer to unlocking the mysteries of the Universe.

In 2007, Fermilab had reported such findings, but the margin of error in their experiment was so large that it made peer scrutiny redundant. This time however, with more precise instruments, the margins are much lesser. Errors can still creep in, and hence peer review is awaited. Two-three years. That’s how long Einstein will have to wait before finding out whether his postulates still stand or not.

Palestine, the second coming?


When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that Palestine would apply for full member status to the United Nations, followed by a statehood bid, he stirred a veritable hornet’s nest. The reaction from Israel, and its long-standing ally, the United States, was immediate and expected – “nothing doing.”

However, on September 26, as the United Nations Security Council debated on President Abbas’ application, it is clear that irrespective of the outcome, Palestinians’ dramatic unilateral bid for statehood has shaken up the international community. To understand the reason behind the furor, some background history is crucial.

Conventionally, Palestine was the title for the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining regions, between 450 BC and 1948 AD. In 1946, with the establishment of the state of Israel, and through the following 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the 1967 Six-Day War Israel significantly expanded its territories, including building settlements in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank.

Disputes over these territories have continued ever since, until 1988, when the Palestine Liberalization Organization’s (PLO) National Council (PNC) adopted the unilateral Palestinian Declaration of Independence, and declared the formation of the State of Palestine. The claimed territory remains under Israeli control, with East Jerusalem as its designated capital.

To date, 127 of the 193 member states of the UN have recognized Palestine, which represents roughly 75% of the world’s population. Many of the countries that don’t recognize the State nevertheless recognize the PLO as the “representative of the Palestinian people.” With so much international recognition, the massively divided response to the Palestinian membership and statehood bid is unexpected. However, deeper analysis reveals some of the reasoning behind it.

Both the US and Israel, the primary opponents of the bid, consider the Palestinian move a hindrance, to the possibility of a peaceful settlement in the Middle East conflict. Both countries argue that UN action cannot replace the effect of direct negotiations between the two political entities involved in the West Bank conflict. And without the acknowledgement of these two nations, UN recognition of Palestine on the basis of armistice lines that existed before 1967 is moot.

Since 9/11, the US has projected a global image of itself as the protector of democracy and rights of people. There can be no denying the fact that a strong Israeli presence in the Middle East is beneficial to the US, who needs an ally in the troubled region against the combined might of the Arab states. In light of the recent Arab Spring and the Jasmine Revolution in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the US cannot afford to back down from its presence in the region. It risks losing face internationally and back home, especially in the face of growing pressure over its mismanagement of the Iraq and the Afghanistan conflicts.

Recognition by the UN will also potentially give Palestinians greater access to international bodies like the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council. Venues like these will enable Palestine to file legal challenges against Israeli practices and exert more international pressure on it, something the US-Israel partnership can ill afford at the moment.

Currently, talks between Israel and Palestine are non-existent. As President Abbas’s bid in the UN brews a storm, deepening old divisions and creating new ones in an already unstable international community, one is reminded of the opening lines of William Butler Yeats’s poem The Second Coming:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

The end of Dr. Khan – Merriment all the way for the US 

Shivani Kaul | SIMC Ink

Pakistan has surrendered another Taliban commander, Nasiruddin Haqqani, to make the United States happy. Almost a year after arresting Taliban’s senior operations commander Mullah Baradar, Pakistan has brought this latest development to throw light on its progress vis-à-vis United States.

Pakistan off late has joined the Global War on Terror, and the United States has been time and again urging its close ally to give a clear report on its progress, particularly in the North Waziristan region.

According to media reports, Nasiruddin, who uses pseudonym Dr Khan, was travelling from Peshawar to North Waziristan, when he was nabbed by Pak agents. He is the son of a feared most-wanted insurgent and head of Haqqani finance, Jalauddin Haqqani. The father- son duo has been known for fundraising activities in West Asia and Arab Emirates for jihadist activities. In a way, it has been a significant arrest for the United States which had given a “strategic impatience” warning to the Pak government.

Dr Khan has a grand history of inciting insurgency in Afghanistan. Along with his associates, Haqqani’s main aim is to hold power in his own land of North Waziristan and attach US Troupes across the Afghanistan border.

Gen. David Petraeus, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has been making it clear to Pakistan through news leaks and direct communications that the U.S. is considering launching cross-border raids by special operations forces and is ready to extend the frequency of armed American drone attacks in the tribal areas, if Islamabad doesn’t do more to disrupt the militants’ safe areas.

Pakistan’s rather slow progress in arresting the most fatal home grown militants has been a sign of encouraging militant activities and the country’s lax laws.

It is without a doubt that the ISI has been supportive of these banned and black-listed organizations. But the country cannot afford to offend its only influential supporter. United States has many times warned Pakistan to act strictly on issues of home grown terrorism and getting rid of Jihadis, in vain! India on the other hand has been pushing US to be stern on its action towards Pakistan.  And this is perhaps the reason behind Pakistan’s fresh urgency to crack down on terrorism.

At the same time, the country still cannot afford to reveal all. It is unlikely that Pakistan will give US intelligence access to Haqqani, as he could reveal the close ties between the Haqqani’s and Pakistan’s intelligence agencies- something which would not only be detrimental to Pakistan’s relations with the Big Brother, but to its global image as a whole.

Therefore it would be foolish for US to be fooled by the token gestures by Pakistan, into believing that the country truly is committed to the eradication of global terror. It is high time for US to interrupt and take action against Pakistan’s attitude towards the parasitic Taliban, and not rely on Pakistan to do the same.



The knight in Russian armour

Mugdha Variyar | SIMC Ink :

Love is in the air. India has recently seen a spate of suitors, in the form of Presidents, come down from the richest kingdoms (read countries) of the world. Cameron, Obama, Sarkozy and Jiabao – they all played their cards well. But India seemed to be won over by the last suitor in this year- the Russian President.

In a record case, thirty pacts were signed between the two countries recently, whose relations around the time had hardly been the talk of the town. With a defence deal amounting to around $ 30 billion, the “biggest Defence Programme ever in the history of India”, as has been described by the Indian Defence Ministry, is all set to change the face of the country’s security.

But this was by no means a mere military deal.  The energy sector, science and technology, pharmaceuticals and space research were also hot topics of discussion. To top it all, bilateral trade between the two countries is projected to reach $ 20 billion in just five years, from a meagre $ 4.7 billion in 2010.

Just as no international meet today is complete without a discussion on nuclear co-operation, this turned out to be no different. Two nuclear reactors with the Russian stamp are all set to be added to the Kundankulam Nuclear Power Project.

Of course, this sudden surge of love between India and Russia is not divorced from the game of regional balance of power. Drawing diplomatic alliances is an old trick in the book of international relations to counter the growing, and often aggressive, power of another nation. In this instance too, it is expected that China will sit up and take notice, as news of India’s bolstered military capacity is sure to shake Beijing’s confidence.

That China exists as a threat to India’s security is no more a rumour. Russia did well to augment India’s defence to unprecedented levels. And of course, we do serve as one of the largest markets for their thriving arms industry.

Clearly, the days of the ‘Look East’ policy seem to be over, and we are now looking North. And even as the growing alliances falling into India’s kitty have been reason enough for celebration, trends have shown that they have not distracted us from keeping an eye on the West (in the neighbourhood).

Russia’s stern stance on Pakistan was what clearly sealed the bond between the two nations. President Medvedev hit the nail on the head when he made all the right noises by condemning our long time foe.

For a change, Russia stepped out of the shadows and indicted Pakistan for its terror havens. Maybe, with slightly more tact than other Presidents have, by stoking the very emotional 26/11 saga.

But in retrospect, it is getting evident that we are only too keen to shake hands with anyone who soothes our wounds.

The hotbed of terrorism is undoubtedly seething in India’s immediate vicinity, and we can take any form of reassurance we get. But we should be looking to do more than just pile up international criticism. Putting together joint forces to tackle insurgency could have been a crucial item on the Indo-Russian agenda.

Here’s hoping this romance lasts long enough to do India a great deal of good in the neighbourhood.



Relative Crimes

Mugdha Variyar | SIMC Ink

Julian Assange is not your ordinary whistle-blower. Events of the last few months have shown us that. And this is not your ordinary sex-scandal which becomes the coup de grace for almost every next celebrity figure. This is about Assange’s love-hate relation with the US, no less.

Before getting our hands dirty in the politics of this increasingly murky pool, a brief overview of Julian Assange’s credentials in the past will help spot the irony.  For his investigative, path-breaking work as the Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, Assange has brought home awards including the Economist Freedom of Expression Award (2008), the Amnesty International UK Media Award (2009), the 2010 Sam Adams Award, along with making it to The World’s 50 Most Influential Award on New Statesman this year.

However, his recent round of the US diplomatic cables leak has had the hitherto friendly government lash out its sniffer dogs. A hero of the past has suddenly turned a state enemy. USA is now wielding the Espionage Act to lay its hands on Assange. Political pressure is already cracking down on the media, seen as complicit in WikiLeaks agenda.

Yes, this is the same country which is soon to host the World Press Freedom Day next year. And as Assange claims to have under his seat other classified information, the witch-hunt is only getting stronger for Mr. Messiah. The demagogic frenzy inevitably brings to mind the days under a certain President McCarthy.

Why has the quintessential Big Brother in global politics decided to turn into a lesser known doppelganger with its actions? Why is national interest a lesser issue in Afghanistan or Iraq, and is yet a good enough reason to tag an institution of transparency as ‘criminal’ in the US?

Sarah Palin may call Assange a ‘terrorist’, but it is only reflective of a typical state sentiment toward an ‘outsider’ who knows but a little too much.

National security is a classified issue alright, but for a government that has for long hoodwinked its people and justified its demonic stance on previous occasions, WikiLeaks is more an image-crushing machine than anything else.

China was recently in the eye of a storm for keeping in prison its Nobel Peace Prize winning activist who it deemed to be anti-national. Looks like USA just won’t let the dragon outrank it in anything.

Assange had a point when he scripted the WikiLeaks philosophy. ‘Regimes do not want to be changed’.

The empty chair speaks out loud

Ramesh Gopalkrishnan | SIMC Ink

A spiky man in a prison cell, 500km northeast of Beijing, is tacitly pummelling the once seemingly invincible Chinese Communist Party.

Liu Xiaobo, (pronounced leo she-ow-bwah) literary critic, dissident and Nobel laureate, thrown in prison in 2009 for subversion and his involvement in the drafting of Charter 08 (a manifesto for political reform that calls for democratization of China) is at the centre of China’s biggest political embarrassment since Tiananmen.

The ignominy that played out at Oslo (Norway) and the uncontainable Chinese fury at the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo showed an unflattering image of China as a nation that arm-twists countries, heavily dependent on it for trade and aid, to boycott the ceremony. Moreover, by ratcheting its propaganda machinery, China further tried to discredit the award that has inadvertently anointed Liu Xiaobo as the new leader of the Chinese dissident movement.

By disallowing Liu Xiaobo or his wife to attend the ceremony and not sending any representative to collect the award, China equated itself with other regimes that have imposed such a condition in the past. The infamous list includes Nazi Germany, the old Soviet Union, Poland (under martial law) and Burma. The comparisons with Nazi Germany that resonated across the world owing to China’s growing military aggression have severely damaged China’s image. The empty chair at the ceremony represented a hostile and arrogant China, a view that fits perfectly in the Western world.

However, to China, the vehemence is not without reason. Every year, the Chinese hope that one of their authors, scientists or economists wins a Nobel Prize that will be a reflection of a developed China. Liu Xiaobo’s nomination is a huge snub to those ambitions. By awarding a dissenter, the Nobel Committee has deemed China’s recent achievements unworthy, rebuked China’s leadership, and the country’s judicial system. All this comes at a time when China is growing increasingly intolerant to the mounting dissent at home and the rising global apprehension over China’s muscle diplomacy that has come with its new found economic power. The Chinese believe, more so now, that the Nobel Peace Prize is a huge ideological conspiracy by the Western powers to undermine its success story and to counter its growing influence on the world stage.

China’s response against the award is a newly established and hastily arranged ‘Confucius Peace Prize’. The prize awarded to Lien Chan, a Taiwanese politician backfired magnificently as the recipient was not at hand to accept the award and the Chinese had to arrange for a six-year-old girl as a stand-in. The futile riposte to the Nobel Committee and the aggressive Chinese rhetoric against the Nobel Peace Prize has culminated into China’s biggest public relations disaster in recent times.

For a nation that is anxiously craving for global recognition as a responsible superpower, China’s misadventure with the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee and the understated yet symbolic eloquence of the empty chair will prove to be as damaging as the tanks at Tiananmen Square.